Top Engineers – Doug Sax

Chet Baker – Acoustic Sounds Hires Doug Sax to Ruin a Classic Jazz Album

More of the Music of Chet Baker

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Trumpet

The less said about this awful Doug Sax remastering for Analogue Productions in the mid-’90s the better. What a murky piece of crap that was.

Audiophile reviewers may have been impressed, but even way back then we knew a bad sounding record when we played one, and that pressing was very bad indeed.

One further note: the Heavy Vinyl pressings being made today, twenty-five years later, have a similar suite of shortcomings, sounding every bit as bad if not worse, and fooling the same audiophile reviewers and their followers to this very day.

Nothing has changed, other than we have come along to offer the discriminating audiophile an alternative to the muddy messes these labels have been churning out for decades.

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Audiophile Reviewers Raved About This Muddy Mess

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Records that Do Not Belong on a Super Disc List

The reviews below will sound depressingly familiar to you if you have been in audio for as long as I have.

Sonic Grade: F

This Athena LP is now long out of print, but it received rave reviews when it was released. (We quote many of them below.) This album is a member of the TAS Super Disc list, but we found the sound awfully opaque, smeary, slow and compressed, the kind of bad “analog” sound that Doug Sax brought to the early AP releases. 

The sticker on the shrink wrap of a previous copy had these quotes:

“…for this is the definitive symphonic recording to date.” – J. Gordon Holt/ Stereophile

“Wins ‘Best Record of the Year’ award against tough competition.” – Joe Hart/High End Audio Press & Music Review

“HP heard the Athena remastering of the Rachmaninoff and found it stunning. He could recommend it without reservation.” – Harry Pearson/The Absolute Sound #57

I guess things never change.

Reviewer malpractice? We’ve been writing about it for more than 25 years.

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Ambrosia – Obsession Is the Best Predictor of Audio Evolution

AMBROSIA is an album we admit to being obsessed with.

It is our contention that to reach the most advanced levels of audio, you have to do two things.

Firstly, you must become obsessed with getting your favorite albums to sound their best, and,

Secondly, you must then turn your obsession with those albums into concrete action.

What kind of action? Finding better sounding pressings and improving your stereo and room.

We wrote about it here. An excerpt:

As a budding audiophile, I went out of my way to acquire any piece of equipment that could make these records from the ’70s (the decade of my formative music-buying years) sound better than the gear I was then using. It’s the challenging recordings by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as scores of other pop and rock artists like them, that drove my pursuit of higher quality audio, starting all the way back in high school.

And here I am — here we are — still at it, forty years later, because the music still sounds fresh and original, and the pressings that we find get better and better with each passing year.

That kind of progress is proof that we’re doing it right. It’s a good test for any audiophile. If you are actively and seriously pursuing this hobby, perhaps as many as nine out of ten non-audiophile pressings in your collection should sound better with each passing year.

As your stereo improves, not to mention your critical listening skills, the shortcomings of some of them will no doubt become more apparent. For the most part, however, with continual refinements and improvements to your system and room, vintage pressings will sound better and better the longer you stay active in the hobby.

That’s what makes it fun to play old records: The sound just keeps getting better!

Ambrosia Checks Off Three Big Boxes for Us

It’s a Must Own record.

It’s a Rock and Pop Masterpiece.

And it’s a Personal Favorite of mine.

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Lincoln Mayorga – An Audiophile Record with Honest-to-Goodness Real Music

More Lincoln Mayorga

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

  • This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for Volume III, clearly the best sounding title in the series
  • A superb pressing with energy and presence that just jumps right out of your speakers – this is but one of the qualities that separates the truly Hot Stampers from the pack
  • Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright – on this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom
  • If you’re a Lincoln Mayorga fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best, both musically and sonically
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tambourines, big bass drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day is because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around at the time.

That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up, and there are not many audiophile recordings you can say that about.

Just listen to the astoundingly powerful brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one. (more…)

Thelma Houston – I’ve Got The Music In Me

More Thelma Houston

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

houstivego

  • This Sheffield direct-to-disc pressing boasts outstanding sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Loads of presence, with richness and fullness that showed us just how good the Direct to Disc medium at its best can be. It had everything going for it from top to bottom, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension (so silky up there!) and ENERGY
  • Make no mistake, this here is a real Demo Disc. The sound is Wall to Wall!

This wonderful pressing fulfills the promise of the direct-to-disc recording approach in a way that few direct-to-disc pressings actually do.

To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good; only a few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a good grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs!

Some copies lack energy, some lack presence, and most suffer from some amount of smear on the transients. But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct-to-disc process?

“Supposed to be eliminated” is a long way from “were eliminated.” Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan, and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the plated acetates (the “fathers”) and many, many stampers made from those mothers.

Bottom line? You got to play ’em, just like any other record. If no two records sound the same, it follows that no two audiophile records sound the same, a fact that became abundantly clear very early on in the listening. Of course, not many audiophiles are in a position to shootout eight or ten copies of I’ve Got The Music In Me, and I’m not sure most audiophiles would even want to. Here at Better Records we have a whole system set up to do exactly that, so we waited until we had a pile of them gathered together, cleaned them all up, and off to the races we went.

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Lincoln Mayorga – The Missing Linc (Volume II)

More Lincoln Mayorga

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

  • This Sheffield Direct to Disc recording boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Guaranteed to be dramatically richer, fuller and more Tubey Magical than any other copy you have heard, with especially punchy drums and rosiny-textured strings
  • The bass on side one extends all the way into WHOMP land for that big bass drum at the end of “Limehouse Blues” – what a sound!
  • The top end is also key to the better pressings – lots of string harmonics and bells and other high frequency stuff gets lost on most copies, but not this one, it’s all here
  • The Audiophile “Sgt. Pepper” of its day, a record that was so much better than anything else you’d ever heard it made you rethink the possibilities (and they did the same thing with Volume III two years later)
  • If you’re a Sheffield Labs fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1972 is clearly one of their best
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is definitely not your typical Sheffield pressing. Some of them are aggressive, many of them are dull and lack the spark of live music, some of them have wonky bass or are lacking in the lowest octave — they are prey to every fault that befalls other pressings.

Which shouldn’t be too surprising. Records are records. Pressing variations exist for every album ever made. If you haven’t noticed that yet, start playing multiple copies of the same album while listening carefully and critically.

If your stereo is any good at all, it should not take you long to notice how different one record sounds from another.

Just listen to the texture on the saxophone on “Limehouse Blues” — you can really hear the leading edge transients of the brass that are so important to the sound of those instruments. The strings sounds rich and full, and the drums are punchy. Track after track, the sound gets surprisingly more open and airy. The harpsichord has such great presence it jumps out of the speakers. Side Two had the best bass ever — extending all the way into WHOMP land.

I was selling audio equipment (Audio Research, Fulton speakers) back in the ’70s and this was a favorite demo disc in our store. The bass drum at the end of track two would shake the foundation with a big speaker like the Fulton J.

Every bit as amazing to me was the string quartet on side 2. You could actually hear the musicians breathing and turning the pages on their music stands, just as if you were actually in their “living presence.”

This is one of the albums that made me realize how good audio in the home could really be. In a way this was the Audiophile “Sgt. Pepper” of its day, a record that was so much better than anything else you’d ever heard it made you rethink the possibilities.

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Lincoln Mayorga, Pianist – Reverse Your Polarity!

Hot Stamper Pressings of Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

This IMMACULATE Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP with Very Little Sign Of Play (VLSOP) is one of the best Sheffields. Lincoln Mayorga is an accomplished classical pianist: this is arguably his best work. (I had a chance to see him perform at a recital of Chopin’s works early in 2010 and he played superbly — for close to two hours without the aid of sheet music I might add.) 

You might want to try reversing the phase when playing this LP; it definitely helps the sound, a subject we discuss below.

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

Reversing the absolute phase on this record recently was quite interesting. The sound of the piano itself was already very good. With the phase reversed what really changed with the sense of space surrounding it, which immediately became much more palpable. The piano, though tonally similar to the way it sounded with the phase left alone, came to life more — more solid and punchy and percussive.

How do you change the absolute phase you ask? You must either switch the positive and negative at the speaker, the amp, or at the head shell leads, or you must have a switch that inverts phase on your preamp or phono stage. (The EAR 324p we use has just such a switch and let me tell you, it comes in very handy in situations like these.) If you can’t do any of those, or are unwilling to do any of those, this record will still sound good. It just won’t sound as good.

Lincoln Mayorga – Listen for Strained and Blary Brass

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blary, or glary if you like. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tambourines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day is because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around (or so we thought). That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Massenet on Klavier – Now With Added Smile Curve

Klavier Is a Label Audiophiles Should Avoid at Any Price

This Is yet Another Pressing Perfectly Suited to the Stereos of the Past

Sonic Grade: F

This hi-fi-ish Doug Sax/ Acoustic Sounds butchering of Fremaux’s performance from 1971 is insufferable.

Can this possibly be the sound that EMI engineer Stuart Eltham was after?

Back in the day, audiophiles in droves bought this pressing from all the major mail order audiophile record dealers (you know who I’m talking about), apparently not noticing the overblown bass and spark-spark-sparkling top end. 

Perhaps the same audiophiles who think that Mobile Fidelity makes good sounding records? It would not surprise me. Same wine, different bottle.

The Smile Curve

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you should know by now that many audiophile records sound worse than the typical CD. The typical CD does not have an equalization curve resembling a smile. The classic smile curve starts up high on the left, gets low in the middle, and rises again at the end, resulting in boosted bass, boosted top end, and a sucked out midrange — the Mobile Fidelity formula in a nutshell.

If your system needs boosted bass and highs, perhaps because your speakers are too small, well, I suppose you could try this Klavier pressing.

Here’s a better idea. Fix your stereo so you won’t need phony audiophile records like this one to make it sound good.

FURTHER READING

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.

Either of the two records shown will be dramatically better sounding than the Klavier pressing.

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The Who – Who By Numbers

More of The Who

More Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

  • An outstanding pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • Glyn Johns’ MAGIC is on display here, with open mics in a big studio space creating the 3-D Soundscapes we love
  • Features two of their most iconic songs, Slip Kid and Squeezebox, and both sound great on this copy
  • In our opinion this is the best — and best sounding — Who album released post-Quadrophenia
  • 4 Stars – Rolling Stone raves: “They may have made their greatest album in the face of [their personal problems]. But only time will tell.”
  • If you’re a Who fan, this title from 1975 is surely a Must Own.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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